Expert Meeting on:
"Ways to Enhance the Production and Export Capacities of Developing Countries of Agriculture and Food Products, including Niche Products, such as Environmentally Preferable Products",
UNCTAD, Geneva, 16 to 18 July 2001.

Production and Trade opportunities for Non-Wood Forest Products,
particularly food products for niche markets.

by Paul Vantomme
Forest Products Division,
Forestry Department-FAO; Italy;
Fax: (++39) 06 570 55618


Purpose of this paper is to introduce the concept of non-wood forest products (NWFP) and their socio-economic importance; and in particular to give an overview of trade opportunities and constraints and of potential niche markets for food products from forests.


Since immemorial times, people have gathered plant and animal resources in forests for their food, shelter and energy needs. Examples include edible nuts, mushrooms, fruits, herbs, spices, gums, aromatic plants, game, wood, fodder and plant or animal products for medicinal, cosmetic or cultural uses. Still today, hundreds of millions of people, mostly in developing countries but also in developed countries, derive a significant part of their subsistence needs and income from plant and animal products gathered from forests. Many of these products (apart from wood products) are also of major commercial importance for international trade (such as "naval stores" from pine resins, rattan, bamboo, and medicinal plant products to name just a few).

All of our agriculture crops were once gathered in natural forests and open grasslands. Gradually, in the course of human history these plants and animals were domesticated by farmers and became part of agriculture. This domestication process of important forest plant and animal species is still ongoing, as shown by recent and successful examples such as macadamia nuts (Macadamia integrifolia) or for fruits like star fruit (Averrhoa carambola) or durian (Durio zibethinus); as well as for animal species such as paca (Agouti paca) and iguanas (Iguana iguana) .

Since the early 1980's, the discussions about the fate of tropical forests were heating up as timber exploitation and logging was perceived as being destructive to forests. Gradually more emphasis was given to the interests of forest dependent people and on the importance of the other then timber products obtained from these forests. The sustainable use of all forest plant and animal species is receiving more attention now as a means of mitigating deforestation, hence maintaining forest cover and preserving biodiversity, while at the same time realising income from it, particularly for forest-dependent people. "Non-wood forest products" (NWFP) and similar terms, like: "minor", "secondary", and "non-timber" forest products (NTFP), have emerged as umbrella expressions for the vast array of both animal and plant products other than wood (or timber in the case of "non-timber") derived from forests. These terms were introduced to get this vast, but so far hidden or poorly known aspect of forest use to the surface and to facilitate a shift of focus towards the economies of forest-dependent peoples. As such it is hoped to encourage a more balanced management and utilization of forest resources as to shift away from the prevalent industrial timber production focussed approach to forests. In this sense, any of those terms much more emphases on the way the products are obtained rather then on specifying what kind of products.


Presently, a vast array of terms is thus used to represent forest and/or "wild gathered" products other than wood or other then industrially produced timber. The following are some of the terms most in use: `minor forest products'; `biodiversity products'; `wild-crafted products'; `special forest products'; `non-wood forest benefits'; `non-wood goods and services';'non-timber forest products (NTFP)'; `non-wood forest products'; etc... . Although basically all the same, scope and coverage of all these terms are slightly different or even vague. In some cases, their coverage varies depending on the situation (covering only those gathered from forests or those from any land vegetation form). In spite of the differences, they are often used interchangeably. Internationally, the most frequently used terms are non-timber forest products (NTFP) and non-wood forest products (NWFP), as they are comparatively more precise and suggestive of their scope and coverage. It is likely that all above mentioned terms will continue to be used in a general way in describing different situations. What is important is that, whatever term is used, it's scope and coverage must be well clarified and the term need to be defined for the context of their use. The term "NWFP1" will be used throughout this paper for reasons of consistency and clarity and does not imply any value judgement regarding to the other above described terms.

Although outside the scope of this paper, I wish however to underline the essential requirement that whatever term is used, it is backed by clear and globally applicable definitions, terms and subsequent product classification schemes. Clear definitions and terms on products in general and NWFP in particular are an essential prerequisite to elaborate and use reliable classification systems. These classification systems are the basis for compilation of production and trade statistics on non-wood forest products in a country and for regional/global aggregation of trade data. Reliable production and trade data on forestry and especially in this case on the NWFP sector of a country is essential to value its contribution to national economies and for the elaboration of appropriate policies and regulations governing a sustainable development of forests and of the NWFP sector as to improve livelihoods of forest dependent peoples and to contribute to a more sustainable and more profitable management and conservation of the forest resources of our world (of which forests "still' cover some 30% of the land surface !).

NWFP are considered as all the biological materials (other than timber and firewood) that may be extracted from natural forest ecosystems, managed plantations and semi-wild trees growing on farmlands and be utilized within the household, be marketed, or have social, cultural or religious significance. Both plant and animal products are included. Whereas, the products collected from wild sources (natural forests) can be easily seen as NWFP, some confusion exists about products collected from plantations (e.g. walnuts, some condiments, certain medicinal plants and some essential oils), or particularly when part of the supplies come from natural forests and part from plantations/cultivations, such as the case of Brasil nuts. Between these two extremes are also some products which originate from semi-wild and/or farmland trees such as the gum (Acacia spp.) and karite (Parkia spp.) trees in Africa. Products originating from all these sources have been considered NWFP in this paper.

Product Classification Schemes for NWFP

One of the important purposes of product definition is to facilitate product classification, providing a framework for consistent accounting. Classifications are thus important for data gathering and management, scientific investigations, analysis and evaluation of trends and outlook, aggregation and dissemination of information, and for forestry planning and policy making. By following consistent classification systems, bridges can be built between various statistics from different sectors (or countries) even when different units are used. Product classification, specifically, helps to trace the flow of goods and services through the economic systems from the producers to the eventual users and facilitates systematic analysis of trade to support development. It helps to assess relative importance of the classes of products under review and indicates development options.

There is no international and globally accepted classification scheme specifically for NWFP, and the variety of NWFP are classified by countries, as good as possible, through their existing national product classification systems. In general, statistical information on NWFP is not properly or regularly reported, and they hardly feature in national accounts as a separate entity. Some of the products on which information is available often get reported under other sectors: agriculture, horticulture, etc. Thus, what we get is a distorted picture of the NWFP sector. However, developing national or globally applicable classification systems for NWFP might not be feasible neither practical. What is needed is to improve the existing national product classification schemes by a more detailed reporting as to provide an identity and clarity on the diverse group of products obtained from wild crafting from forests with their production and trade figures. Careful compilation and aggregation of all these data will result in a more precise economic assessment of the contribution that NWFP make to the economy of a country.

The most widely used international product classification system is very appropriate for NWFP accounting. The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, generally referred to as "Harmonized System" or simply "HS", is a multipurpose international product nomenclature developed by the Customs Cooperation Council of the World Customs Organization (WCO). It comprises about 5,000 commodity groups, each identified by a six-digit code, arranged in a legal and logical structure and is supported by well-defined rules to achieve uniform classification. The system is used by more than 177 countries as a basis for their Customs tariffs and for the collection of international trade statistics. Over 98 % of the merchandise in international trade are classified in terms of the HS. The HS has 21 sections, divided into two-digit groups or chapters, 1,241 four-digit headings and 5,019 six-digit headings. All the headings relevant to NWFP are covered in HS, and some are further subdivided at the sixth digit level. In addition, countries may add for their own national product classification, 2,3 or 4 more digits for further specification.

For example, in the HS classification; "Walnuts" are well defined up to the species level (Juglans regia) under 08.02.2 with a further specification of "In shell" (0802.31) and "Shelled" (0802.32). "Mushrooms" and "herbs" are unfortunately not as well defined. "Mushrooms" (dried, whole, cut or sliced and fresh or chilled) are classified under a single item: "Mushrooms and truffles" (07.12.30). However, many countries such as Japan, have added in their own national classification, additional digits to further specify species of mushrooms of importance to them (shitake). Also for the term "herbs" (12.11) further specifications at the country level would be needed to clarify entities from either cultivated sources or from wild gathereing, as the HS foresees only 3 groups: 1211.10: Liquorice roots; 1211.20: Ginseng roots; and 1211.90 "Others". However, several individual countries have added additional digits in their national accounts to further specify their production and trade statistics of medicinal plants.

Further issues on the Reporting and Statistics on NWFP

An important purpose of product classification is to compile statistical information at (inter-) national level. Comprehensive statistical data gathering at the national level hardly exists for NWFP, and development of this will have to be approached in stages, starting with those products for which statistical information is comparatively easy to collect. As a broad group, the forest products other than wood exhibit a high degree of heterogeneity in terms of their source, production systems, characteristics, and utilization. These products, of both plant and animal origin, fall under a large number of product groups, with each group having considerable variety. In order to understand their scope, boundaries, and linkages, it is necessary to have clear understanding of terms, and an adequate system of product classification.

The HS is harmonised with other existing major international and with national product classification systems and by adopting multi-digit coding is adequately flexible for incorporating the reporting on NWFP and therefore capable of being adjusted to the contexts within which different organisational units operate and to the specific situation of individual countries. The HS divides products into several sectors. According to this classification, activities related to NWFP are spread over a number of different activity sectors. Because of this, any assessment of the contribution of forest products other than wood, using HS as a basis, requires a cross-sectoral approach.

However, improvements in the reporting on NWFP have to take place within an improved system for forestry as a whole. Treating NWFP statistics in isolation will be artificial since forest benefits, wood and non-wood goods and services, are inextricably linked. Forest influences and many intangible benefits (for example, watershed values) cannot be classified either with (or as part of) wood or non-wood products.

Wood products are reasonably well classified already and, except in the case of fuelwood, are adequately covered by (inter-)national systems of statistical reporting. Unlike in the case of wood products, the bulk of production and consumption of NWFP takes place at the subsistence level so that transactions of NWFP takes place outside the formal and organised markets. In such cases, national accounts and other statistical systems can accept estimates based on other valuation methods. The number of people benefited, or the imputed value of unreported consumption of NWFP such as fodder/forest grazing, traditional and herbal medicines, non-wood construction materials, food and edible products from wild sources are acceptable as a basis for estimation. There have been increasing number of attempts to improve and make use of economic techniques to value the externalities; and different techniques are being tried in different situations.

NWFP in the formal sector often get reported under other sectors, (e.g. agriculture, horticulture, manufacturing) in the absence of a relevant classification and accounting structure regarding the source of the product (wild-crafted versus farming) or the stage of processing (raw materials versus semi-processed products). On the other hand, some NWFP are also gathered on non-forest land. Considering them as forest products will be anomalous. Therefore, it becomes necessary to identify and classify sources. Accordingly, the adjective forest qualifies the product. Forest products should cover only those originating from forests or obtained from a system of land use which can be included under the general heading of forestry.

The cost involved in establishing an elaborate statistical system for NWFP may well be beyond the capacity of many countries; this also makes it necessary to adopt a step-by-step approach. Even though it is possible to identify, count, weigh and measure NWFP, and there have been improvements in this direction, lack or inadequacy of institutions and data gathering arrangements still present serious problems. It is necessary also to harmonize on the correct units and measurements to be adopted for reporting on quantities of different products.

Definition, classification and a system of accounting are crucial in providing valid statistics for assessing the real significance and comparative roles of sectors and sub-sectors of the economy, for making realistic projections of sectoral outlook, and for planning sectoral developments. The intention here is to underline the need for these in respect of NWFP. This paper does not pretend to present an authoritative definition or a definitive classification for NWFP. Its purpose is to facilitate discussion and solicit views and suggestions in that regard. It also seeks to promote and encourage national and international initiatives to collect and disseminate statistical information on NWFP.

see annex 1 for an overview on different kinds of NWFP.


NWFP are of significance primarily in household and local economies. Several million households world-wide depend heavily on NWFP for subsistence and/or income. Some 80 percent of the population of the developing world use NWFP for health and nutritional needs. Women from poor households are generally those who rely more on NWFP for household use and income. This number is even larger if those who are seasonally dependent on NWFP (e.g., livestock herders dependent on forest fodder/browse in the dry season, or displaced people due to famine or war conflicts) are considered.

NWFP are also used in many village-level artisanal and craft activities throughout the world. At a local level, NWFP also provide raw materials for large scale industrial processing for products such as foods and beverages, confectionery, flavourings, perfumes, medicines, paints or polishes.

NWFP have also attracted considerable global interest in recent years due to the increasing recognition of their contribution to environmental objectives, including the conservation of biological diversity.


Some NWFP are also important export commodities. At present, at least 150 NWFP are significant in terms of international trade. Most of these are exported in raw or semi-processed form. While most are traded in rather small quantities, some products do reach substantial levels, such as honey, gum arabic, rattan, cork, forest nuts and mushrooms, essential oils, and pharmaceutical products ( see Table 1). The figures on the value of international trade in NWFP are indicative only and should be used with caution.

Table 1: Value of Trade in Selected NWFP


US$ (million)

Natural honey 268.2
Mushrooms and truffles 210.7
Nuts 593.1
Spices 175.7
Ginseng roots 389.3
Gum arabic 101.3
Plants used in pharmacy 689.9
Essential oils 312.5
Cork and cork products 328.8
Rattan 119.0

Source: Igbal, M. 1995. Trade restrictions affecting international trade in non-wood forest products. Non-Wood Forest Products Series No. 8; FAO, Rome.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimated that the total value of world trade in NWFP is on the order of US$ 11 billion. The general direction of trade is from developing to developed countries, with about 60 percent being imported by countries of the EU, USA and Japan. China is the dominant world trader, but India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Brazil are also major suppliers to world markets (see Table 2).

Table 2: Trade Direction for Major NWFPa

Product Main origins Main markets
Brazil nuts Brazil, Bolivia, Peru USA, UK, Germany, Australia, Canada
Walnuts China, USA, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan EU, Japan, Canada, Switzerland
Morels Pakistan, India, Afghanistan France, Switzerland, Germany
Shea nuts (Karite nuts) Burkina Faso, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, Central African Republic Japan, Sweden, EU
Gum arabic Sudan USA, EU (UK and Germany), Switzerland, Scandinavia, Japan
Pine rosin China, Indonesia, Portugal Japan, Germany, UK, France, Netherlands, Italy, etc.
Rattan Malaysia, Indonesia, Viet Nam, China Italy, USA, Spain, France, Egypt, Japan, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Thailand
Bamboo China, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Rep, of Korea, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Philippines, Bangladesh France, Germany, Netherlands
Lac India, Thailand Germany, Egypt, Indonesia, USA
Natural honey Former USSR, China, USA, Mexico, Turkey Germany, USA, UK, Japan
Ginseng roots Japan, China, Singapore USA, Rep of Korea, Canada, China EU
Essential oils China, India, Indonesia, Brazil EU, USA, Japan
Medicinal Plants China, Rep. of Korea, USA, India, Chile, Egypt, Argentina, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Zaire, former Czechoslovakia, Albania Japan, USA, Germany, France, Italy, Malaysia, Spain, UK
Bidi leaves India Pakistan, Sri Lanka

a Partial selection from Iqbal (1995), Table 2, Page 9.

Again a word of caution regarding the international trade statistics on food NWFP here presented. International trade in NWFP is composed of imports and exports of numerous products at different stages of processing. Some of the products are unprocessed goods, while others have undergone various degrees of processing. As a very large volume of NWFP are being traded unregistered, under-reporting or non-reporting, double counting, grouping of NWFP among themselves and with other products, particularly with agricultural-based products, and the use of unrealistic prices are among the systematic shortcomings of these statistics. At the same time, since there is considerable overlap between some of the NWFP and agricultural commodities in the trade statistics, there is every likelihood of distortion of the figures. Further, because of the variable availability of trade statistics, the quantities and values indicated for various countries reflect data from different years. For all of the above reasons the data given should be accepted with some caution. They do, nevertheless, provide a reasonable indication of the level of magnitude of trade in the various NWFP food products.

Most NWFPs are traded in rather small quantities, but some such as ginseng roots, natural honey, nuts, gum turpentine, rosin, bamboo shoots, mushrooms and gum arabic do reach substantial levels. Over US$ 380 million of ginseng, for example, is imported annually. Many also, however, channel into international markets, mostly in unprocessed or semi-processed forms. Such products play a significant role in earning foreign exchange, so valuable for most of the developing economies.

Herewith a short review of some of the most promissing NWFP for food niche markets:

Pine nuts (seeds of Pinus gerardiana, P. pinea, P. korainsis and P. cambra) and tree nuts in general are an important NWFP with a growing and high-value market, particularly in countries with a health food awareness. Seeds of Chalghoza pine (P. gerardiana) are produced and exported by Afghanistan and Pakistan. China is the world's largest producer and exporter of Pinus korainsis seeds - one of the bigger-seeded species- and seeds of Pinus cambra - the Siberian equivalent to the edible European nut species (P. pinea). Spain and Portugal are the major producers and exporters of pignolia nuts (P. pinea). Other important "forest" nuts are: walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, araucaria and brazilnuts.

Wild edible Mushrooms, like morels belonging to genus Morchella, are another product of considerable economic and commercial significance. The morels are prized for culinary uses, particularly as a gourmet food. Morels grow naturally in temperate forests of many European countries, USA, Canada, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Turkey, Nepal, and Bhutan. Total world production is estimated to be approximately 150 tonnes. Pakistan and India are the main producing countries, each producing about 50 tonnes of dry morels annually (equivalent to fresh morels of 500 tonnes), all of which is exported. Total world trade in morels is of the order of US$ 50 to 60 million. Like morels, truffles are also highly favoured by gourmets in various European countries and USA. France and Italy are the main producers. Whereas production in France was around 1,000 tonnes, some 100 years ago, it had fallen to 20 tonnes in 1988. In Spain, about 15 to 30 tonnes of truffles are collected each year, of which the bulk is exported to France (FAO/ECE, 1988). Truffles are exported in fresh as well as preserved form. In 1989, USA imported 5.4 tonnes of fresh or chilled truffles, mainly from Italy and France, valuing US$ 1.477 million or US$ 273 per kg. Wild Shitake is another example of such very expensive mushrooms with high potential for niche markets.

Bamboo shoots represent a fast expanding and fashionable export market. Taiwan alone exports over US$ 20 million annually. In China, tender shoots of about 100 species are edible; their production averaging one million tonnes annually. Thailand exported 31,730 tonnes of canned bamboo shoots during 1989, valued at 460.62 million bahts. The bulk of the exports went to USA and Japan, followed by UK, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, France and Republic of Korea. Japan is the main market for bamboo shoots in Asia. Small quantities of bamboo shoots are also exported from Indonesia.

Spices, condiments and culinary herbs are another important group of NWFP which constitute a significant component of world trade. Indonesia is the largest world producer of nutmeg and mace and accounts for three-quarters of world production and export. Grenada is the second largest producer and exporter. Indonesia produced 15,800 tonnes of nutmeg during 1990, whereas Grenada produced 2,700 tonnes of nutmeg and 200 tonnes of mace, in 1991. World trade in cinnamon is between 7,500 to 10,000 tonnes annually. Sri Lanka contributes 80% to 90%, most of the remaining balance coming from Seychelles and Madagascar. The world trade in cassia is of the order of 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes annually, of which Indonesia accounts for two-thirds and China most of the remainder. Minor producers include Viet Nam and India. About 2,000 to 3,000 tonnes of cassia bark are exported from Viet Nam annually. The EC, USA and Japan are the major markets.

Plant gums are another interesting product particularly for the food industry. Gum arabic, an exudate of Acacia senegal, is the most widely used and traded plant gum. Current worldwide trade is around 25,000 tonnes, of which about 20,000 tonnes comes from Sudan alone. The remaining 5,000 tonnes originates from other African nations, notably from Nigeria. The USA is the largest single market, accounting for 25% of the world market. The EU, Switzerland and Scandinavia collectively account for 40% of the world imports, and about 10% is channelled into Japanese markets. Gum tragacanth (Astragalus sp.) growing from Pakistan to Greece, particularly in Iran and Turkey. Total world trade is around 400 tonnes. The EC, USA, Japan and former USSR are the major importing regions. Gum karaya, also known as Indian tragacanth, is obtained almost exclusively from Indian plantations of Sterculia spp. India is the only regular producer, overwhelmingly dominating international trade in the gum. Total world production is about 5,500 tonnes per annum. Carob or locust bean gum is obtained from the endosperm of the beans of carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua), which grows in abundance in the mediterranean region. Total world exports of locust bean gum are currently about 12,000 tonnes per annum, of which over 80% is attributable to Spain, Italy and Portugal. Gum Talha is a water soluble gum derived from a number of Acacia species like A. seyal, A. sieberana, A. hockii, A. ehrenbergiana and A. karroo. Production remains fairly constant at around 6,000 tonnes per annum. About 3,000 to 5,000 tonnes are exported annually, mainly from Sudan. Combretum gum is obtained from Combretum nigricans, occurring throughout tropical West Africa, particularly in northern Nigeria, Mali and Niger.

World production of oleoresins (naval stores) from all sources, is almost stable, ranging between 1.1 and 1.2 million tonnes annually. China and Indonesia dominate the world's production. China has emerged as the world's largest producer of rosin, with annual production level of nearly 400,000 tonnes. The world's annual trade in gum rosin is around 330,000 tonnes. Portugal and China with total annual exports of around 200,000 tonnes, dominate this trade, and China accounts for about one-third of total world's production and exports.

World trade in natural honey is of the order of 300,000 tonnes, valued at US$ 300 million. Former USSR, China, USA, Mexico, and Turkey are the major producing countries. Germany, USA, UK and Japan are the major world markets. Whereas treating wild honey as a NWFP would be easily understandable, inclusion of cultured honey as a NWFP could be questioned. Nevertheless, because many plants growing in forests and a number of semi-wild trees constitute an important nectar and pollen source for foraging bees at least a part of cultured honey should be considered as a NWFP. Actual apportionment, however, remains difficult as trade statistics lumps honey from all sources together. There is however a premium price for honey obtained from "unpolluted" nectar sources, and which are mostly situated in forested areas of developing countries.

World trade in essential oils is of the order of US$ 1 billion, including both the wild as well as cultivated sources. China, Indonesia, Thailand, India and Brazil are the major suppliers of some of the oils. The EU, USA and Japan are the principal import markets, accounting for 72% of the total world imports. Major essential oils are from cultivated sources (such as geranium oils), however "forest-tree" based oils (and therefor considered as ' organic' oils like balsamo, sandalwood, conifer and eucalyptus oils) are higly preferred for aroma-therapy uses.

Out of the long list of medicinal plants, about 4,000 to 6,000 botanicals are of commercial importance; and of which still some three quarters is estimated to be from wild gathered sources. China is the biggest producer as well as exporter of medicinal plants, followed by the Republic of Korea, USA, India and Chile. Singapore and Hong Kong are the main re-exporters in Asia. Japan, USA, Germany, France, Italy, Malaysia, Spain and UK are the major markets. Hamburg is the world trade centre.


Factors affecting the production of NWFP:

The foremost issue regarding the development of NWFP, be it for subsistence or commercial use, is related to the resource availability itself, including clarification of resource access and user rights. The commercial exploitation of many NWFP is often undertaken in a non-sustainable manner through a free access system to the forest for harvesting the resource in uncontrolled/unlimited quantities. The majority of species, which actually yield non-wood products, occur with low frequency, especially in tropical forests. In general, species with low densities are unlikely to become important suppliers of commercially large quantities, as they are highly susceptible to the impacts of over-harvesting. Basic research knowledge on the resource, in terms of both biology and the socio-economic considerations is essential before commercial exploitation of a particular NWFP is promoted. As the majority of the harvesting of NWFP is undertaken by forest dwellers, it is a key requirement that these local communities be involved in the development of resource assessment, harvesting and management systems. It is therefore essential to include community management of forest resources into any NWFP development programme. Recognizing that simple protection of forests and their biodiversity can be more successful if the local people living in and close to these forests are benefiting.

Actions to address resource supply constraints are mainly through adjusting silvicultural interventions as to promote more growth space for the selected species and forest management regulations specifying access /user rights and responsibilities. However, forest management and silvicultural systems also have their limits, particularly in those cases and forests where several user groups have conflicting user claims, like timber, grazing and gathering NWFP. For example there are often significant conflicts between the NWFP and timber value of many tree species, especially when the derived benefit from timber and NWFP are directed to different forest user groups. Baillonella toxisperma (moabi), Pterocarpus soyauxii (padouk), Carapa guianensis (andiroba) and Milicia excelsa (iroko), to name just a few, have high timber values at overseas markets, but their local NWFP uses are valued high by the native people.

While NWFP may represent the major actual or potential source of income from forests with low timber production potential, such as degraded/logged-over forests or those in arid and semi-arid zones, with a few exceptions, it is unlikely that in production forests they can compete with financial returns from timber harvesting. NWFP are likely simply to supplement the returns from timber rather than replace it as a source of revenue. Increased production of NWFP in forests which are unsuitable for timber production, however, will enhance these forests' value, and thus at least theoretically provide a form of economic protection against conversion to other land uses. Care must be taken, however, that commercialisation does not result in over-harvesting of NWFP, since this can have its own negative environmental consequences. Management of forests for NWFP in addition to timber is more likely to benefit the local economy and to provide goods and a source of income for forest-dwellers.

Domestication and farming of NWFP can be another or complementary option to address resource supply constraints. Through agroforestry schemes, the growth of NWFP resources can be promoted, as is the case of eru (Gnetum africanum) in Nigeria, where domestication trials and farming of eru plants in home gardens is starting. When highly valued species become depleted in the forests, domestication is and has been usually the most common response. Most of our agriculture crops were once NWFP. Gradually, these forest plants and animals were domesticated by farmers and became part of agriculture. This domestication process is still ongoing.

However, domestication of the resource through farming is not always, neither everywhere, technically possible, economically feasible or socially and environmentally acceptable. Domestication and farming of NWFP may work well for some species but not for others, like the case of some highly valued mushroom species but which we do not know yet how to cultivate. Also, farmed products may be considered qualitatively inferior when compared with wild gathered species, as such is the case for many medicinal plants. The economic feasibility for farming NWFP is limited as long as the species growing in the forest are available at a lower price. The social dimension of domestication is also important as often forest dependent peoples or those socially disadvantageous groups, who actually depend on NWFP for their survival and cash income, might not have access to farm land at all, or not be able to compete with large-scale production of NWFP by well-established farmers. Farming NWFP also has an environmental implication in the sense that it reduces the incentives for conservation of the ecosystems in which the NWFP species grow. In addition, conserving forest biodiversity is also important because many of the now domesticated farm crops still have their wild relatives growing in the forests and are therefor a valuable source of genes for plant breeders in search for disease resistant and/or more productive varieties of plant crops and animals.

Improving processing, marketing and trade of NWFP is the next key issue, especially when a commercial utilization of NWFP for national or international trade is envisaged. Major trade impediments in the producing regions often include: the absence of any institutional framework for the management, support and regulation of the NWFP sector; and the insufficiency of transportation infrastructure (roads) for the rapid shipment of the products between production zones and the nearest major market. For oversees trade, further bottlenecks are: the lack of regulations on the importation of these products (especially for food and medicinal plants products) or when they exist, lack of harmonization of NWFP import regulations between the importing countries; the irregularity of supply and unsuitability of product standards to regulations and consumer preferences, and for food products the lack of regularity of fresh products or cold storage facilities at (air) ports at producing countries; the absence of quality control and product information to consumers; administrative cumbersome customs procedures; and the large number of low volume products involved (in case of several NWFP species for food products).

The above mentioned constraints can be best remedied in the producing regions by the private sector with support from several governmental and non-governmental organisations and covering the full sector from the resource, harvesting, transport, till processing and marketing. Most successful are local (or village-level) processing activities to increase value-adding, such as grading, improvement of packaging and conditioning of products. The aim is to ensure that demand and supply develop in parallel, that the supply is from sustainably managed resources, and that the products satisfy the expectations of the clients on the one hand, and improve the income of the producers on the other. This is a big challenge and may be difficult, but it is not insurmountable. Working progressively, it is clear that many more NWFP will be able to follow the commercial path taken by numerous products that are now presently sold in large quantities in the international market (herbal products, gums and resins, honey, mushrooms, aromatic products, artisanat,..... etc).

Fair trade associations have often a catalytic role to play towards a successful commercialization of NWFP. The aim is to promote the development of autonomy and emancipation of small-scale rural producers through the establishment of commercial relations based on fair trade. These organisations either buy products directly from the producers for resale at more rewarding (inter) national markets or provide technical and marketing support to the rural producers associations locally. The profits are transferred back to the producers to be invested in the further development of their activities. This concept constitutes an important market support for developing countries to promote new products, and a growing number of cooperatives word-wide market their NWFP by means of this channel.

Appropriate and effective policy and institutional support is an other key issue for a successful NWFP promotion programme, that at the same time conserves and derives income from forest biodiversity. Traditionally, maximising forest revenue is focussing on timber production and has driven forest policy and management decisions in many countries. Silvicultural systems and forest regulations have been designed specifically to enhance timber production. On the other hand, conservation of forest biodiversity is (has) largely been implemented through a network of 'protected' areas and in which no harvesting is (was) usually allowed. These policies and practices have in many places conflicted with the interests of forest-dwellers and people dependant on the forest, and have limited the development potential of the NWFP sector. With the increased recognition of the socio-economic and environmental importance of NWFP, however, more attention is being put on the development of forest policies and management systems for sustainable use of both wood and non-wood products and services and to ensuring equitable distribution of the benefits. In addition, more attention is given to the importance of strengthening the social institutions to help these communities and other forest user groups achieve a environmentally sustainably and socially more equitable exploitation of NWFP.

At the level of international trade, NWFP face both tariff and non-tariff trade restrictions. The nature of these restrictions varies from country to country and from product to product. A key measure to mitigate trade restrictions on NWFP is through appropriate certification and labelling schemes.

The certification/labelling of NWFP became a key issue in several international discussion fora on topics like sustainable forest management; conservation of Biological Diversity; and for the protection of the interests of forest dependent indigenous peoples and their knowledge. Although some existing certification schemes already are starting to certify specific NWFP, there is still a lot of misunderstandings on the objectives for certification of NWFP. The purpose here is to provide some clarifications regarding the different types of certification systems applicable to NWFP and on the major objective of the certification effort: product quality control; social or environmental criteria.

The "Certificate of Origin" is one of the most widely used labelling/certification schemes for quality control of a wide variety of products, including food products. The certificate only certifies that a given product is coming from a given region, or even a specific area. The most famous examples include the "D.O.C." (Domination d'origine controllée) for wines and cheeses. Such systems are usually operated and monitored through a government-private sector consortium. Increasinly some high value edible NWFP, like truffels, morels etc are certified through such documentation of origin systems; and which imply, according to the prestige of the place, a given standard of quality.

In the agriculture sector, Organic certification is rapidily expanding and covering a wide range of products from food to textiles, and is part of the product quality standard setting. Organic certification of a product certifies that the full production sequence of a product (from the farm till the processing ) has been done respecting the criteria for organic agriculture (and which may be different and/or more exigent among different certifying agencies). Organic certification is a private sector led activity. NWFP which are gathered in forests are usually considered as organic products by definition (because no fertilizer or pesticides were used for its production) and therefor many NWFP such as pine nuts, mushrooms, herbs gathered in forests are now increasinly and successfully commercialized as organic food products. For NWFP, organic certification per se, does not guarantee that these products have been obtained from sustainable managed forests.

Another criteria for certification is to document the social aspects involved with the production of a given product and if the obtained benefits from its trade are equitable spread to all stakeholders. Social based certification schemes for NWFP are relatively new, although they already exist since long time for agriculture or manufacturing products, for example the "Max Havelaar" shops. Similar market outlets now exist with certification covering NWFP, which were produced by indigenous peoples or by local cooperatives and with full return of benefits to the producers. Particularly Fair Trade associations and ngo's are active in this field.

The timber or pulpwood certification schemes which certifies that timber/pulpwood has been produced from sustainable managed forests is now also being extended to include NWFP. However, this is a much more complex issue then timber certification only, as from the same "certified" forest many different NWFP can be obtained each one with different (and often conflicting) requirements. For example, a forest can be managed for timber production in a sustainable way, while its mushroom resources are being overharvested.

The different scope's of certification approaches to NWFP (quality control, social and environmental aspects) are often used interchangeably. Also an organic certification and/or a certification of sustainable managed forest is often assumed to be a guarantee that NWFP have been produced in a sustainable way (and which is not always the case).


The potential for increased commercialisation of NWFP would appear to be large if judged simply by the number of plant and animal products of known value for human use and the fact that forests cover close to 30 percent of the world's land area. Successful (and sustainable) commercialisation of a NWFP that is currently collected and used in the household or sold in small quantities in a local market, is however difficult. There are a range of technical needs and social and economic implications involved in doing so and improved marketing processes and trade structures are essential. A number of important issues are being grappled with in current efforts by FAO to tap the economic potential of NWFP. These include:

Consistent policies and support which specifically govern the management, harvesting and processing of NWFP are lacking in most countries, but some (e.g., Indonesia, India and Turkey) have recently made effort to redress this. Overall, the development and implementation of national policy frameworks to support NWFP development remains a major challenge.

For further information on FAO's activities regarding the promotion of NWFP; and for more detailed statistics on NWFP production by country or by product, kindly look at the website of FAO's NWFP programme:


Purposes Type of Product Species Unprocessed Processed
Plant origin : Part of plants
Food products        
- used for food Berries / Fruits Jujube fruits, Ginkgo fruits (m), Dacryodes edulis, Irvingia gaboensis, Garcinia mangostana X X
  Mushrooms Morels, Truffles, Pine mushrooms X X
  Nuts Brazil nuts, Pine nuts, Malva nut, Walnuts, Chestnuts, Cola nuts, Pendula nuts, ngali nuts X X
  Palm hearts Euterpe oleracea X X
  Shoots of bamboo / plants   X X
  Edible fatty oils extracted from nuts Shea nuts, Babacu oil, Illipe nuts   X
  Edible fatty oil extracted from fruits     X
  Edible fatty oils extracted from other parts of the plant Tea oil   X
  Starch Sago palm, Mauritia palm   X
- used for beverages Berries / Fruits alcoholic beverages

(beer, wines)

Palm wines, fruit wines   X
  Berries / Fruits juices     X
  Others Kawa, boldo   X
- used for sugars and sweeteners Prepared syrups Birch sap/syrups, Maple syrup   X
  Berries / Fruits jams     X
- used as spices and condiments Spices Nutmeg, Mace, Cinnamon, Cassia, Cardamom, Galanga, Caraway   X
- used for fodder, forage   various plants    

Purposes Type of Product Products Unprocessed Processed
Chemical properties        
- used in medicine Indigenous plant-based medicinal preparations / medicaments Cinchona bark, Psyllium, Belladonna, Hyoscyamus spp, Duboisia spp, Digitalis spp, Licorice, Serpent Wood, Ipecac, Senna, Periwinkle, Berberis spp, Ginseng   X
  Medicinal oils extracted from seeds Kusum oil, Kokain butter, Chalmugra oil   X
  Medicinal oils extracted from other parts of the plant Tung oil   X
- used in perfumery Industrials oils extracted from leaves Eucalyptus oil, Kayuputih oil, Lawan oil, Wintergreen oil   X
  Industrials oils extracted from other part of the plant Vetiver oils, Sandal oil, Sassafras oil, Rosewood oil, Cubeba oil, Cedarwood oil   X
- used in insecticides and fungicides Products extracted from flowers Pyrethrum   X
  Products extracted from roots Derris   X
- used for tans and dyes Vegetable colorant extracted from trunk wood Logwood   X
  Vegetable colorant extracted from flowers and fruits Annatto seeds, Kamala   X
  Vegetable colorant extracted from leaves Henna   X
  Vegetable colorant extracted from other parts of the plant Indigo   X
  Tannin extracts of vegetable origin Wattle, Gambir, Quebracho, Mimosa, Cutch/Katha   X
- used in other technological applications Industrials oils extracted from seeds Neem oil, Tengkawang oil, Andiroba, Sal oil   X

Purposes Type of Product Products Unprocessed Processed
- used for plaiting Bamboo articles     X
  Reed articles     X
  Rattan articles     X
- used for stuffing and padding   Kapok   X
-used for thatching   Sungrass, golpatta, hantal, hogla    
- other uses Bamboo furniture     X
  Rattan furniture     X
  Furniture manufactured from other non-wood forest raw materials     X
- used for fertilization Humus   X X
  Others Peat X X
- used for decorative purposes Ornamental foliage Mistletoe   X
Other purposes        
  Bark Cork products, other bark   X
  Prepared vegetables waxes     X
  Others Bidi leaves   X

Purposes Type of Product Products Unprocessed Processed
Plants origin: Vegetable Exudates
Natural gums and seed gums        
- used for food   Gum arabic, Gum tragacanth, Gum karaya, Carob gum, Mesquite, Tara   X
- used in technological applications   Gum talha, Gum combretum    
Resins / oleoresins        
- used in perfumery Fragrant resins Gaharu, Benzoin, Styrax, Peru and Tolu Balsam, Elemi, Olibanum, Myrrh, Opopanax   X
- used in technological application   Pine oleoresin, Almaciga, Camphor, Damar, Copal, Copaiba, Jotoba, Gamboge, Mastic, Dragon's blood,

Asafoetida, Galbanum


  Rosins and rosin acids     X
  Turpentine oils and derivatives     X
- used for food   Chicle, Sorva, Jelutong, Macarandura   X
- used in technological application   Natural rubber, Gutta percha, Ballata   X

Purposes Type of Product Products Unprocessed Processed
Animal origin: Animal Products
Edible animal products        
- used for food Game meat/ bushmeat   X X
  Honey   X X
  Others Snail, Edible nest   X
Hides and skins        
- used for dressing Skins     X
  Leathers     X
  Furs     X
Chemical properties        
- used for tans and dyes Animal colorants Cochineal   X
Other animal products        
  Prepared animal wax Beewax   X
  Others Lacs,
Silk, Aleppo galls


1 The term NWFP is used by FAO and its definition "NWFP consist of goods of biological origin other than wood, derived from forests, other wooded land and trees outside the forest" contains three essential terms and aspects:
 1. Non-Wood: The term NWFP excludes all woody raw materials. Consequently, timber, chips, charcoal, fuelwood, as well as small woods such as tools, household equipment and carvings, are excluded.
 2. Forest: NWFP should be derived from forests and similar land uses. FAO has elaborated a definition of "forest"; "other wooded land" and "trees outside forests" . It has to be taken into consideration that a lot of NWFP can be derived from both natural forests and plantations.
 3. Products: In the definition, the term product corresponds to goods, which are tangible and physical objects of biological origin such as plants, animals and their products. Forest services (e.g. ecotourism, grazing, bioprospection), as well as forest benefits (e.g. soil conservation, soil fertility, watershed protection), are excluded from the term NWFP.